How the FBI Shut Down a Massive, Online Drug Marketplace

Silk Road may be a rather nonthreatening name for a website, but what was going on there was anything but. The FBI recently announced that it shut down Silk Road, an alleged online drug marketplace where illegal drugs were for sale and where criminal activities, including murder for hires, were advertised.

The operator and owner of Silk Road, Ross Ulbricht, of San Francisco, was taken into custody by FBI agents, at which point he was charged by New York federal prosecutors on narcotics, trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy charges.

This bust was a big one for the FBI, with the criminal complaint stating that Silk Road was the “most sophisticated and extensive” anonymous marketplace on the Internet today. In fact, it was suspected of being used by thousands of drugs dealers to sell illegal drugs all over the world.

In addition to the criminal drug activity taking place on Silk Road, it was discovered that the site, which has been operating since 2011, also offered tutorials for hacking ATM machines, offered guns for sale, fake passports and driver’s licenses, and published contact lists for black market connections. The FBI report states that there were more than 900,000 registered users on the site, all of whom bought and sold drugs using Bitcoin, a type of digital currency.

During the investigation period, FBI investigators bought drugs and had them shipped to the New York area more than 100 times.

The site was run by Ulbricht in San Francisco, although he attempted to hide his location by using computers at Internet cafes and employing a number of technological tools to mask the location of the servers, as well as site users and administrators.

FBI investigators also reported that Ulbricht, in one correspondence, even suggested a hit on another user with whom he had a dispute.

Silk Road was estimated to conduct at least $1.2 billion in sales and had nearly 1 million customers. The FBI also estimates that Ulbricht made more than $80 million in commissions from the site’s users.

The FBI has not revealed how it found Silk Road’s servers or were able to compromise them.

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